Michael Lewis’ Home Game is a funny and honest account of becoming a father.
Fittingly, perhaps, I finish Michael Lewis’ Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood on the evening of Father’s Day after a mainly silent dispute with my partner about the vexed question of backing each other’s decisions up. It’s a great book. Like any good book on parenthood, it treats its subject matter with humour. It’s the only way, really. And it’s a breath of fresh air to read things from a dad’s point of view – and an apparently honest one too.
The book takes the format of a series of short articles on significant episodes in the births and lives of Lewis’ three children. He starts with the birth of his eldest daughter Quinn and the example set by his own father. He writes: "My father took it almost as a matter of principle that most problems, if ignored, simply went away. And that his children were, more or less, among those problems. ‘I didn’t even talk to you until you went about to college," he once said to me…" Lewis remarks that his father ended up getting just as much love from his children as his mother did, even though she put in all the effort. It’s an interesting point and one many men have probably pondered, though I’m not sure it’s altogether true and certainly in the early days, as Lewis himself states ruefully, it is the mum who the kids want most of the time. What is clearly true, though, and he recognises this, is that if the dad puts in the effort, he feels more attached to the child.
Lewis is great on the way fathers are expected to feel certain things, like to fall instantly in love with their offspring, and then believe they have to pretend that they do feel that way when in fact they feel something entirely different. He suggests fatherhood is to some extent "an extended cover-up".
He suggests women love their children immediately and that men have to learn to love them. He talks about his lack of involvement or avoidance of involvement in his children’s lives when he is writing books or, with his third child, when he is busy trying to look after – or pay someone else to look after – his two daughters.
Many of his observations are at his own expense. He talks about wallowing in self-pity – of being up half the night with a child and feeling like a hero only to look at his wife who has been up even longer and realise that that hero status is not entirely merited, of doing his level best to help out only to find that the kids want their mum. He states: "At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and – let us be frank – got fleeced…the American father now finds himself in roughly the same position as Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having shocked the world by doing the decent thing and ceding power without bloodshed for the sake of principle, he is viewed mainly with disdain. The world looks at him schlepping and fetching and sagging and moaning beneath his new burdens and thinks: OH…YOU…POOR…BASTARD."
Every time he thinks he has done something useful and effective, his pride is punctured. He finds that he got the wrong medicine, dressed the kids in the wrong clothes, led them off the straight and narrow…His wife, he perceives, knows how to do the whole parenthood thing. She appears as a bit of a shadowy figure, suffering once from post-partum panic, forcing him to spend time with his children to help the family to bond [he ends up in hospital after one skating incident], telling him off when he gets things wrong, making him love his newborns by selling him their good points and generally looking totally sleep-deprived.
He describes each of the births and his feeling that women are in labour, while men are just "in waiting". In the first birth, his main concerns centre on food. He also passes out halfway through as he has been drinking coffee for the nights before to stay up so he can finish a book and then downing alcohol at around 4am to get to sleep. Unfortunately, labour starts in the middle of the night. He is very good on the absurd classes and activities that are created for children, such as New Agey music and swimming classes or camping trips and on sibling rivalry. In short, he talks about the sort of things you kind of know that your partner is feeling. It’s a great book to give a dad or a prospective dad so they feel they can talk honestly about the whole thing.
It would be nice, though, one day to have an account that gave both the mum’s and the dad’s view of parenthood to compare notes. They may find that they have more than a little in common with each other and that perhaps mums are not quite as in charge as they might appear and that basically everyone is "covering up" and no-one on the boat really has a clue where they are paddling towards.
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood is published by Penguin price £8.99.
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